Douglas Tompkins Dies In Kayaking Accident: Co-Founder Of North Face And Esprit Succumbed To Hypothermia

Douglas Tompkins, the co-founder of adventure clothing company North Face, died while kayaking in southern Chile. He was 72.

Described as an avid outdoorsman, environmental activist, conservationist, and entrepreneur, Tompkins died after his kayak capsized. Apart from co-founding the North Face clothing company in San Francisco, he also co-founded Esprit with his then-wife, Susie Tompkins Buell. The boat had five other people besides Tompkins, who survived the accident, reported the Wall Street Journal. Incidentally, Tompkins didn’t drown. Though he was pulled out of the lake, he died of hypothermia at Coyhaique Regional Hospital, confirmed North Face officials.

Mr. Tompkins and his teammates were kayaking on the General Carrera Lake in the Patagonia region when their boat capsized. General Carrera is a picturesque lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks in the Andes, reported MSN. It is famous with adventure lovers for magnificent geological formations. However, the region is notorious for its unpredictable weather patterns and extremely cold water, which generally stays at 4 degree Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit). The day the accident happened, the water was below 4 degree Celsius.

South American news stations reported that Mr. Tompkins was in the water for a long period of time before he was pulled out. It is believed the prolonged exposure to the freezing cold water was the primary reason for Mr. Tompkins’ death. He was an experienced kayaker along with his equally skilled teammates. However, they were no match for the strong and large waves that lashed at them with steadily worsening weather, according to reports from the Chilean army.

Douglas Tompkins Dies In Kayaking Accident
(Photo by Daniel Garcia / Getty Images)

Reports indicate strong winds drove waves twice a kayaker’s height and capsized the kayaks, forcing the paddlers to swim in the frigid waters. A military patrol boat, which happened to be in the vicinity, pulled the kayakers out and kept them warm. Though strong winds attempted to derail rescue operations, a private helicopter pilot braved the weather to complete a rescue of two more boaters. The pilot also managed to offer medical evacuation (medvac) to Tompkins. At the time of the rescue, the lake water had brought the veteran outdoorsman’s body temperature to 19 degree Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit). Tompkins was flown non-stop to a hospital in Coyhaique, about 1,000 miles south of Santiago. However, doctors there failed to revive him and declared him dead.

Douglas Tompkins, known to his friends as Doug, had a strange way of preserving nature. Tompkins managed to get on the bad side of many influential Chilean businessmen as well as the then-president of Chile after he began buying up large tracts of land in a Chilean rainforest in 1991, using the profits from Esprit, the iconic 1980s women’s wear brand.

Douglas Tompkins Dies In Kayaking Accident
[Photo by Lucas Brentano/Getty Images]
Suspicions gave way to resentment and hatred against Tompkins and his second wife Kristine, who had begun to evict tenant ranchers from their estate that had grown to cover more than 750,000 acres. There were persistent rumors that the husband-wife duo were stealth Zionists come to form a new state. They were working with the CIA or their real corporate plan was to steal Chile’s water reserves and have it directed to Africa. People laid their faith in such seemingly preposterous claims but refused to believe that the billionaire was merely trying to buy land so that he could take it out of production, nurture it back to its natural state, and then give it back to the government without charging a single penny. Tompkins always had a grand plan of creating his own nature reserve. He had even dubbed the property as Park Pumalin after the region’s most charismatic megafauna, reported Bloomberg.

Owing to Douglas Tompkins perseverance, today Pumalin Park is a pristine piece of land that’s a lush green oasis, protecting what little wildlife that Chile has, along with helping biodiversity thrive. It is certainly sad to know such a nature lover died, but his friends are happy knowing he died while doing what he loved the most.

[Photo by Daniel Garcia/Getty Images]

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